Career Readiness Essentials: Developing Your Career Savvy

“A lot of fellows nowadays have a B.A, M.D., or Ph.D.

Unfortunately, they don’t have a J.O.B.”

~”Fats” Domino

 

Wouldn’t it be nice if employers would appear on our doorstep with lucrative job offers and automatically recognize our greatness? Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. But, judging by the horror stories we routinely hear from employers, some are mistakenly acting as if it were true. The fact is, we may have all of the qualifications in the world, but if we don’t know how to effectively market ourselves, we simply won’t land the job. Marketing doesn’t always come naturally to us, but it is a learned skill with proper training.

Based on our conversations with recruiters and young adult applicants, there are some missing ingredients in today’s career readiness training at school and in the home. From recruiters, we hear about poor interview skills, mistake-laden resumes/cover letters, and lacking professional decorum. Meanwhile, students are struggling with networking, taking the initiative, searching for open positions, and persuasively marketing themselves. It needn’t be this way.

With that backdrop, here are our recommendations for developing marketing savvy in your career readiness training:

  1. Create a competitive mindset. A winning strategy begins with a winning attitude. Succeeding in today’s job market requires initiative, proactivity, and competitive instincts. In most cases, you’ll be initiating your own job search versus being recruited. And, you can expect to compete against a worthy pool of applicants who all want the same thing. You must stand out!
  2. Build a skills inventory. In last week’s blog, we discussed the importance of building your competitive edge. Now, it’s time to get it down on paper. What are your special skills and leadership attributes that make you unique and valuable, especially for the position at hand? What supporting evidence (i.e., accomplishments, recognitions, stories) can you cite?
  3. Develop a compelling resume and generic cover letter. Create powerful documents that share your achievements, history, leadership credentials, and competitive edge in a manner that is appealing to potential recruiters. Be sure they are checked and cross-checked to avoid typos and are reviewed by at least one professional adult. Recruiters are perfectionists when reviewing written correspondence!
  4. Display a professional social media presence. Create a professional profile in locations such as LinkedIn. And, understand that most recruiters will review your posts and tweets on various social media platforms. Delete any and all posts that may reflect negatively on you in the eyes of a recruiter! And, from now on, consider that a potential recruiter is in your audience when you post or tweet. It’s a great filter.
  5. Discover the available job openings. In order to land a great job, you need to know where and how to find them! Familiarize yourself with job posting sources (e.g., Indeed.com, craigslist.org, local newspapers) and with open positions among companies of interest (contained in their website). What job titles best capture your career interest? What companies in your area excite you? Develop a matrix of job openings by title/position and the companies offering them to help direct your search efforts.
  6. Tap into your network of ambassadors. These days, the overwhelming majority of positions are filled by individuals who had an “inside advantage.” So, when you identify job openings of interest, explore whether you know someone in that firm who can go to bat for you. This is huge! In addition, be sure that your network of advocates is aware of your job search so they can offer suggestions and valuable connections.
  7. Master the interview. Successful interviewing involves preparation, preparation, and preparation. It begins with thoroughly researching the company and the position to help demonstrate your interest and ask compelling questions. When they ask why you’re interested in this position, you’d best have a convincing answer! And, be sure to master the art of the interview by making a great first impression, demonstrating confidence, enthusiasm and likeability, having persuasive answers to likely questions (including why they should hire you!), and displaying professional verbal and nonverbal skills. Role playing is a must! Remember, practice makes less imperfect!
  8. Have a good follow up strategy. Personalized, hand-written thank you notes are a must and are to be mailed promptly after the interview. Be sure they know you are interested in the position. Depending on their process, also consider a phone call expressing thanks and interest.

With preparation, training, and practice, your students can successfully market themselves and win the job. Let us know how we can support your career readiness efforts with our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources. We’re here to help!

Career Readiness Essentials: Knowing What Employers Value

career fairHere’s a true story from my hometown. She was scheduled to arrive for work as a server for a small family restaurant at 5:00. However, she apparently received a better offer. At 4:55 she called the owner, informing him that she was sick and unable to work. But, merely 15 minutes later, she would be posting pictures of herself with friends at a beach party some seven miles away. When she showed up refreshed for work the next day, she was fired on the spot.

This case example is worth sharing in your homes and classrooms because, in various forms, stories like this are becoming commonplace. Whether from inexperience, lack of training, or simply misguided attitudes, many teens and young adults are struggling on the job. They’re learning the hard way that trophies, so easy to come by when they were young, are much more difficult to obtain in the workplace. But, with proper training, stories like this are preventable.

In last week’s installment in our career readiness series, we discussed the importance of self awareness as the necessary first step to a successful career. Finding a good match begins with knowing me!  Now, in the second step, I need to get to know you: my current or potential employer. But, judging from the horror stories I hear, employer perspectives are a missing ingredient in many career readiness programs. Students need to understand that their career success involves much more than smarts and skills.

To this end, here is our top ten list of qualities desired by employers:

  1. Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; trustworthiness
  2. High standards: a commitment to excellence in work, relationships, and attitudes; actively seeks out feedback and professional development
  3. Reliability: dependable in fulfilling responsibilities; adopts an “on time, every time, with excellence” mentality
  4. Motivation/work ethic: self starter who is willing to go “above and beyond;” industrious and efficient and follows instructions
  5. Team player/relational skill: demonstrates positive interpersonal skills with fellow employees, clients, prospects, suppliers, and the community; encourages others and focuses on the company and team over self
  6. Positive attitude/enthusiasm: displays a constructive and uplifting attitude and passion for both work and the company
  7. Innovative: demonstrates curiosity, creativity, and a commitment to improve processes, products, and services
  8. Resilience: faces challenges head on, rebounds from adversity, and resolves conflict along the way
  9. Professional manner: displays a professional attitude, appearance, and communication
  10. Commitment: is loyal to the company’s mission and core values and represents the company well in the community

Whether we’re parents, educators, or mentors, it’s vital that we train the next generation with these guiding principles. While doing so, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Help them understand that they are there to serve the company, not the other way around. Disabuse them of any sense of entitlement or notion that the world revolves around them.
  • The time to begin modeling these qualities is NOW. Have your students rank themselves on a 1-5 scale. For which qualities are they a 5-star role model? Where do they need to up their game?
  • Through role-playing exercises, have your students pretend they are the owner of a company recruiting for a new position. What qualities would they be emphasizing as they evaluate candidates? By switching them from their usual subservient role to that of the boss, they will quickly appreciate the employer’s perspective.

Once students appreciate the importance of these workplace qualities, they will be better equipped for their entire career management process. That means better cover letters, resumes, applications, interviews, and on-the-job performance. Understanding the qualities valued by employers should be an integral part of your career training efforts. It would have certainly helped avoid a fiasco in my hometown!

Top Ten Parenting Tips to Promote College Readiness (Part Two)

Last week, we shared the first five of our ten best parenting tips to build college readiness and circumvent the “derailers” plaguing college students today. The sooner we can build these skills in our future collegians, the better prepared they will be to succeed! Without further adieu, here are the final five tips:

 

  1. Respect their need for balance and margin. In an effort to build a foolproof resume for their college applications, many students overcommit and are completely stressed out. Most of this is originating from performance-driven parents who mean well, but who are undervaluing their children’s need for balance, margin, downtime, and sleep. Not surprisingly, rebellion and/or high anxiety are common in college as a result of this pressure.

    This is a reminder to parents to help teens maintain a healthy work/life balance. Be realistic about the time requirements of their activities and avoid overscheduling. Also, encourage them to be highly selective in committing to college activities, especially in the first year when there are so many exciting opportunities. Variety is great, but balance is key.

  2. Develop career savvy. Many high schoolers are needlessly anxious because of pressure to know exactly which career to pursue. However, the reality is they’re still discovering themselves! Also, they’ve yet to take advanced courses in their major, and many haven’t even spoken with actual practitioners to gauge whether a certain career path is a good fit.

    You can play a constructive role with your high schoolers by building career awareness. This means: 1) having them complete career assessments (e.g., careerbridge.wa.gov and www.careercruising.com), 2) introducing them to people with interesting careers, and 3) training them on the process of selecting a career. Also, be sure to develop their marketing skills for interviewing, resume/cover letter writing, and networking. Offer real world career insights, including the qualities that employers value most (e.g., integrity, high standards, dependability, relational skills, positivity, work ethic, and resilience). What I Wish I Knew at 18 has several excellent success pointers to build your teen’s career savvy.

  3. Instill healthy living habits. The Freshman 15 (pounds, that is). The party scene. All nighters. Yes, they’re real. And, too much of a good thing is spoiling many college careers. With newfound freedom and a world of choices—some healthy, some not, and some even illegal—many students are underachieving, anxious, in poor health, and eventually, dropping out. Freedom can be a two-edged sword.

    It’s beyond the scope of this blog to do delve deeply into healthy living habits, but these are a must to nurture before the fact: 1) nutritious and balanced eating (a huge challenge when they enter Carb Heaven!), 2) physical activity and exercise (working out at the gym/joining intramural teams), 3) adequate sleep, and 4) positive stress relievers.

  4. Build their financial literacy. Far too many college careers are abbreviated for financial reasons. Whether it’s due to lack of affordability, poor spending habits, or credit card debt, student financial stress is impacting performance and college completion. Of all the topics where parents mistakenly assume their children are trained in school, this is number one. For too many schools, personal finance is not a requirement or even offered. Parents should assume the leadership role here.

    Some financial musts for your future collegian: 1) understanding needs versus wants, 2) knowing how to develop and adhere to a budget and spending plan, 3) understanding the basics of credit and debit cards (latter preferred for collegians), and 4) choosing a major that will yield a positive return on college investment.

  5. Impose guidelines for technology/social media use. While technology serves many useful purposes, the side effects rarely receive the airtime they deserve. Issues with shorter attention spans, addiction to devices, distraction, lack of motivation, irritability, communication deterioration, wasted time, constant stimulation, and, yes, destructive content, are interfering with student health and success.

    To counteract these influences, institute and enforce healthy boundaries in your household (e.g., time limits) when it comes to technology and social media use. You may lose some “popularity points” with your children, but the stakes are simply too high for a laissez faire

 

We hope these tips are helpful to you, and we encourage you to share them with others in your sphere. Here is a link to the complete article. Let’s set all of our future collegians up for success!

 

 

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Two

It’s not uncommon to hear negative generalizations about today’s young adults (AKA millennials). There’s a lot of blaming going around, but have we ever stopped to ask ourselves what our role might be? Or, what improvements we can make to their training? Today’s post is part two in our four-part series about equipping and fostering success in young people, with a special message to secondary school educators. If you missed our post for parents earlier in the week, you can find it here. Or, you can access the entire article at the bottom of this post.

Today’s secondary schools face enormous challenges in covering all the bases and setting students up for life success. In addition to their core education efforts, our teachers also deal with tremendous regulatory demands and increasingly fragmented families. As a former school board chair and educator, I honor their tireless investment in our younger generation.

Importantly, our secondary educators play a vital role in preparing their graduates for college, career, and life. So, it’s appropriate to consider their influence on the general state of our young adults. In doing so, I’ll approach it as an advocate for two key constituencies: the students themselves and the institutions receiving their graduates (most notably, colleges and employers).

Importantly, secondary students are not in a position to advocate for themselves, and they assume they are receiving the education and training they need for life. And, why not? Meanwhile, our colleges and employers assume their students will arrive prepared for college, career, and life. Again, why not?

However, it is clear from our weak college graduation statistics and the feedback from universities and employers, that these assumptions are often erroneous. Far too many students are dropping out and/or lacking the basic skills that employers are seeking. So, while many students are book smart, signs are they’re not always life smart. This is a predictable outcome when leadership development and practical training occupy a secondary role in our schools.  In too many cases, student training is neither holistic nor sustainable.

With all that in mind, I respectfully offer the following recommendations to secondary school educators who are serving our today’s students today and tomorrow’s collegians and employees:

  1. Develop and implement a comprehensive vision for a well-prepared graduate for life. My favorite Stephen Covey habit is “Begin with the end in mind.” Importantly, it applies just as much to organizations (like schools) as it does to people. However, in my years of speaking at schools and conferences, I have never witnessed more than 10% of the audience state that their school has defined a well-prepared graduate. Never. This is an urgent priority because it frames everything. What skills, character attributes, and knowledge do our graduates need to succeed in life? That our employers and universities desire? We must know this.
  2. Create the necessary pathways and programs to implement this vision for all This will likely involve new courses, reprioritization, and integration of concepts (e.g., leadership).
  3. Require leadership and life skills courses for all students. These courses, often under the purview of FCS and CTE (Family/Consumer Science and Career and Technical Education) are simply too important to be considered electives. In addition to leadership and character skill building, all students should receive practical education in post-secondary preparation, career readiness, communication and relationship building, financial management, citizenship, manners, and self awareness. We can no longer assume that our students are learning these vital skills at home. (In too many cases they are not!) This will likely involve some reprioritization of other courses to make room for these essential topics. The keywords are “holistic,” “relevant,” and “sustainable.”
  4. Dispense with the “college or bust” mentality. The significant first-year college dropout rate reveals the unintended consequence of an overemphasis on college as the immediate next step. For many high school students, other options such as employment, vocational schools, community college, trade schools, a gap year, and military or service are better fitting options. These are not “second rate” choices.
  5. Prepare all students for a professional environment. Among the biggest complaints about today’s younger workers involve their casual written and oral communications and manners. Clearly, this is an adverse consequence of today’s tech-laden world. Communication is such a success driver in life, and, it deserves to be a greater priority in our schools. Also, courses in entrepreneurship, that would expose students to all aspects of managing an organization, would be beneficial. While the latest rage is STEM (or is it STEAM…?), it’s important to recognize that most jobs, even in those types of organizations, do NOT require advanced math and technical degrees. Let’s remember that as we develop our course menus and requirements.
  6. Promote leadership and character, and reward students accordingly. So often, academics and athletics command the greatest award attention in our schools. Ask most employers and they’ll gladly prefer a 3.5 GPA with great character to a 3.9 with little else. How many leadership and character awards are offered in your school?
  7. Cease with the grade inflation. This form of coddling proves to be a short-lived source of self esteem when students face the reality of competitive environments like college and the workplace. Let’s be honest, we’re doing them no favors.

 

Teachers, we are so grateful for you and your tireless efforts. Keep up the good work as we all work together and learn from each other, mastering our roles as “next generation equippers.”

 

Next week we will address this topic with college/university educators, as well as employers. If you’re interested in gaining access to all four parts of the article, you can find it here.

The Value of Values: Part 3

What do you value most in life? Is it your collector’s hot rod? Your job? Your beach house? Your iPhone? Or, is it something less tangible, like integrity, family togetherness, spirituality, respect, or serving others? Hopefully, it’s one of the latter.

In case you’ve missed it, we’ve been talking a lot about values around here lately, and stressing the importance of instilling strong values in the young people we parent, coach, mentor, and teach. As ethics, morals, manners, and values have become de-emphasized in the public square, political arena, entertainment industry, and corporate boardrooms, we’re witnessing a downward slide in our nation’s character. When character is disregarded or devalued, relativism, “meism,” and chaos fills the vacuum. There’s just no getting around it.

In this last part in our series, I’d like to discuss three more elemental values that are instrumental in creating virtuous and admirable character. Upholding (and believing in) these values not only benefits the upholder, but also his or her family, friends, employer, classmates, coworkers, and beyond. By restoring our societal commitment to character and values, it would truly be a world changer.

  1. Patience. Have you ever lost your patience while waiting in an endless line, or dealing with a finicky customer? Have you ever thrown out some not-so-nice hand gestures in a fit of road rage? Or, how about when you throw a tantrum with your family or friends when things don’t go your way or people disappoint you? The fact is, losing your patience usually does more harm than good in almost every situation. Learning to be patient in all circumstances makes us more pleasant people to be around and allows us to handle stressful situations and conflict in a more level-headed manner. Taking a deep breath and counting to 20 before responding is wise medicine. After all, today’s impatience is often tomorrow’s apology.
  2. Courage. Do you handle tough situations with bravery, or are you more inclined to backing down or withdrawing? Of course, there’s a time and a place for walking away, but sometimes, courage is key. Courage means never letting your fears drive your life, and instead, stepping out of your comfort zone and always doing the right thing and standing up for yourself (respectfully), no matter how un-cool it may seem.
  3. Self-control. This is likely a tough one for many of us. Self-control can be related to our outward behavior (for example, how we impulsively react when we are annoyed or angry), as well as our internal motivations (for example, our relationship with food). When you practice self control, it means that you are able to manage your impulses and respond to temptation in a way that benefits yourself and others. Instead of reacting in the heat of the moment, you’re able to reel yourself in and think about your choices before you actually make them. This is a big one, friends. Consider taking a moment to self-check and see if there are any areas where you could use greater self control.

In case you missed the last two parts in this series, you can catch up on them here and here. For our comprehensive positive traits and values list, click here. We encourage you to discuss them with your families and students as a great self-awareness project. Which ones are we modeling well? Where could we up our game? Are any of them outdated? What others might you add to the list?

Thank you for being a part of this series! Have a great school year!

Playing the Blame Game Won’t Help You Win

 

Consider this scenario: It’s finals week, and you’ve spent the last few days cramming like mad. Deep down, you know you should have started studying earlier in the month, but with intramural football, that new video game, spontaneous trips to the beach, and Netflix parties with your friends, there just wasn’t enough time. Although you’re doing all the “right things” now by highlighting your reading and going over old quizzes, you’re rushed and anxious.  It’s no surprise, then, to see a disappointing C- at the top of your paper. Regrettably, you know you could have done better.

So, what now? Do you take issue with the professor or teacher, complaining that the questions were too hard? Do you accuse him or her of biased grading, or being out to get you? Do you compare your test to those of classmates who earned better grades? Worse yet, do you recruit your parents to petition on your behalf?!?

Or, do you take personal responsibility for your grade and accept the fact that you underprepared? Will you own the outcome?

We call this topic “Accepting Personal Responsibility for Our Mistakes and Shortfalls.” And believe me, it’s no easy feat. However, it’s a sign of maturity and a hallmark of a true leader. Being able to put complaints, self-pity, and the desire to blame others for a negative outcome aside is a sign of integrity and self-awareness. Moreover, accepting responsibility causes us to live with an accurate perspective of reality.

Blame shifting and negative behavior justification distorts our reality—causing us to live in a world where we believe we do no wrong. It’s rooted in insecurity, and it affects our decision making, job performance, academic achievements, relationships, and more. Everyone else screws up but us, right? Wrong! The real reality is that we all mess up but have the capacity to accept the consequences and learn from our mistakes.

Refusing to own up to our shortfalls creates a blind spot in our lives—one that may cause us to miss out on great opportunities. That professor who was “biased” against you? She could have turned out to be a great tutor. The coach who you were convinced benched you every game because he “didn’t like you?” He could have been a great personal trainer and helped you up your game. That classmate who was “jealous of you?” She could have helped you become a better friend.

The long and short of it is this: as we grow into well-rounded, confident, and contributing members of society, it’s crucial that we accept responsibility for our mistakes and shortfalls. Although it may seem difficult at the time, this practice will make us better friends, employees, players, and students who have an accurate and healthy view of ourselves and the world around us. Humility and self-awareness are of high value, so start this practice now!

Can you think of a situation where you stood up and took responsibility for your actions? What good came from it? If you are a parent, teacher, or mentor, consider taking some time to sit down with your teen and talk through real-world examples of accepting responsibility for poor choices.

Priceless Mentoring Conversations

mentoring

You did it! You’ve entered into one of the most important and fulfilling roles you’ll ever play. You’re a mentor. And now that you’ve signed up, you’re probably wondering, “What next?” And, then you remember all of the mentors who invested in you and how they…

  • Listened to what was on your mind and heart
  • Encouraged you every step of the way
  • Inspired you to be more than you ever imagined you could be
  • Shared real life stories to help you face difficult situations
  • Offered wisdom that you would apply in the years ahead
  • Understood you and believed in you

    These are the hallmarks of a great mentor.

If you are a new mentor, perhaps you’re asking the question, “What should we talk about?” Of course, the answer depends on the age of your mentee and whether yours is a more formal or informal mentoring relationship. If it’s a formal one, you’ll be given guidance and direction from your program leaders. Regardless, the age of your mentee will also inform your conversations…helping them navigate life NOW while sharing a glimpse of what lies ahead in the next few years. That’s different for a fourth grader than for a middle schooler or high schooler.

In our work with What I Wish I Knew at 18, we are often asked what are the most important topics to share with the younger generation, whether in the classroom, the home, or in mentoring relationships. Drawing from our recent “Leadership for a Lifetime” blog series, here are some invaluable subjects to discuss in an age-appropriate way and when the timing is right:

  1. Their uniqueness, value, and strengths. Far too many young people have an incomplete understanding of the treasure they are to this world. You can help them build their self awareness of who they are and what they have to offer. This Personal Balance Sheet exercise can help.
  2. The importance of positivity. It is said that you become the average of the five friends with whom you associate with most. Whether it’s friends, music, video games, TV, movies, or websites, surrounding yourself with positive influences is a key in life.
  3. Living with vision and intentionality. Today’s students are facing tremendous pressures, distractions, and anxiety with little margin to spare. It’s easy to become consumed with the NOW. Have them share their dreams and their goals for the next five years. Then, encourage them to make plans to turn their dreams into reality.
  4. Building a personal brand based on integrity. Brands aren’t just for businesses like Coca Cola and Starbucks! Encourage your mentees to develop a strong set of core values like integrity, work ethic, dependability, kindness, generosity, respect, teamwork, humility, and high standards of excellence. Share whom you admire the most and encourage your mentee to do the same, and you’ll open up this critical topic.
  5. The value of adversity and the power of resilience. Help them understand that adversity happens to all of us (using your own story for examples). The question is, How will we handle it? Share the personal growth you’ve gained from adversity and how those who helped you often faced similar challenges. Today’s adversity can become tomorrow’s encouragement to someone else!
  6. Time is of the essence. We’ve never faced a time when distractions were more prevalent. Help your mentees understand that time is a precious asset and should be managed accordingly.
  7. The secret formula to life. In the end, life is about how we use our time, talents, and treasure to make the world a better place. Through conversation and volunteering together, you’ll help them appreciate the formula, U>Me.
  8. Stay flexible. While you may have a lesson topic in mind, it’s important to ask whether there’s anything special they’d like to discuss. Whatever that is, that’s where you go!

We hope these suggestions lead to unforgettable conversations with you and your mentee. We salute you and wish you the very best in your mentoring relationships!

Out with the Old, In with the New!

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A fresh year always inspires fresh dreams. Most of us think, “What are the things I could improve in my life, if I had a fresh start?” For some reason, “January 1st” symbolizes new possibilities and a chance for a “do-over.”

In what area of your life would you like a fresh start? In your parenting or other relationships? Your performance at school or on the job? How about being more financially savvy or more organized? Or, maybe yours is like mine: to take control of busyness and reserve more time to reflect. All of these are admirable aspirations—but how can we make them a reality?

Most successful people accomplish their aspirations by staring with dreams and then establishing goals and plans to help make them come true. And, they know that the most effective goals are both specific and measurable (as opposed to vague and difficult to evaluate). As you start to identify your aspirations for 2016 and beyond, it’s important to develop short-, intermediate-, and long-range goals to help get you there.

Even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? These are your long-term or lifetime goals.  It’s important to set these first because they will shape your overall perspective and help frame your smaller and shorter-term goals. Think about such areas as:

  • Education and learning
  • Career
  • Marriage and family
  • Finances
  • Community service
  • Relationships
  • Spiritual life
  • Physical goals (sports, etc.)
  • Talents and skills
  • Travel
  • Experiences
  • Retirement

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some medium-term goals (e.g., three to five years) that will help you achieve your long-term goals.  From there, you can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture. Periodically check on your long-term goals to make sure they remain high on your list. Also, monitor your progress on your medium-range goals to make sure you’re on track.

(Parents, you may want to make some parenting goals … check out our book, Parenting for the Launch, for some ideas to help you set goals and create a family mission statement.)

Finally, start making daily to-do lists, prioritized by importance and urgency. If you do, you’ll be contributing on a daily basis toward the things that will make your lifetime goals and dreams possible. Here are some guidelines as you do:

  • Phrase your goals in the positive, not the negative
  • Make them realistic goals—ones that are possible and achievable
  • Make them measurable and specific, such as “visit five continents” as opposed to “travel around the world”

What are your aspirations for 2016? Beyond that? This can be fun and lively discussion with family and friends over the holiday season. Make a plan to check back with each other next New Year’s and see who has gained the most ground in accomplishing their goals.

The Joy of Living Generously

The value of a man resides in what he gives
and not in what he is capable of receiving.
~Albert Einstein

Really, life’s greatest joys come not in the getting, but in the giving. Don’t you agree?

People who live generously—not just with their money, but with their whole person—deserve special admiration. They’re not motivated by fame or fortune, but rather by joyful service. Their qualities of generosity, empathy, compassion, and kindness make them inspiring treasures to us all. And although those values tend to get more press at Christmastime, they are values we should all aspire to live by all year long.

Generosity is a paradox. The culture around us screams materialism and commercialism – Buy, buy, buy. Accumulate. Indulge. On the other hand, there is a whole world out there that desperately needs what we have to offer. It invites us to give, serve, help, and empower. The paradox of generosity is this: the more we give, the more we get! It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true. We find our life by losing it. We win by losing. We gain by giving away. And, our greatest memories are of the gifts we gave rather than the ones we received.

This kind of generosity requires sacrifice—not just financial, but personal. Yes, it can be stretching and uncomfortable. But slowly, we begin to realize there’s more to life than what we own and can hold onto.

Have you ever wanted to change the world? This is where it starts. In fact, how you eventually impact the world will be driven not merely by what you have to offer but what you choose to offer. It’s the ultimate generosity test, isn’t it?

What do you uniquely have to offer the world? There are many different avenues that can allow you to allocate your personal resources to serve others. To decide how best to give what you have to benefit others, there are three main questions to consider:

  • What talents, skills, and resources do I have to offer?
  • What groups or community segments (e.g., youth, elderly, homeless) do I feel most called to help
  • What organizations will allow me to use my time, talents, and treasure to help those I feel most passionately about?Could your answers to these questions be a New Year’s resolution in the making

What would happen in our communities if we all cultivated and demonstrated this heart of generosity, of “other-centeredness” as a way of life, embodying the qualities of generosity and compassion in our everyday dealings with people? I think the world would be a more welcoming place! With that in mind, here are some ideas for living generously this holiday season—and throughout the year:

  • Make a donation to an organization serving people and causes you are passionate about.
  • Look for ways to be creatively generous if you are on a limited budget. How can you give time? Attention? Acts of service? Material possessions? You could sell something you own and give away the proceeds.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter in your city.
  • Visit a nursing home or hospital. Listen to their stories, or tell some of your own. Just sit with them if that’s what brings comfort.
  • Allow yourself to be interrupted without being irritated—this is a mark of a generous spirit. (Or, put down your mobile device and give the people around you your undivided attention.)
  • Make yourself available to people or organizations, free of charge, for consulting on an area or topic in which you have expertise.

This short list of ideas just scratches the surface—you may even come up with better ones! The bottom line is this: Living generously will bring help and hope to others and immense joy to you in return. You’ll receive far more than what you give. Nothing compares with using all of you to serve and improve the world around you. This is the true spirit of Christmas!

Have you experienced the deep satisfaction that “giving yourself away” evokes? What have you done and how has it impacted you. Looking ahead, what new ways do you envision using your time, talent, and treasure to make the world a better place? Share your thoughts; we’d love to hear your stories and ideas!

Leadership for a Lifetime: Other-Centeredness

Has anyone ever done something nice for you that was so refreshing, it made your day? Maybe the person ahead of you at Starbucks paid for your coffee. A family member did your chores for you (without being asked). A friend brought or bought you dinner. It feels good, doesn’t it, when others go out of their way to express kindness to us?

And, it works both ways. When we’re the giver…we, too, share in the joy of the receiver. (As we enter the season of gifts, you’ll no doubt witness this firsthand!) It’s why the secret formula for a fulfilling life is: U>Me. It’s also why OTHER CENTEREDNESS is a hallmark of great leaders.

The principle of other-centeredness applies equally to our professional lives, even if it’s less commonly taught and practiced. Whether we’re business owners, department heads, managers, team leaders, coaches, teachers, or mentors, we will be placed in positions of influence and relationship. How will we approach them? Well, did you notice the emphasis on the word “them?” These kinds of leaders—both personally and professionally—are not self-centered; they’re other-centered.  For them, it’s not all about “me”; rather, it’s also and maybe even more about “others.” By empowering and encouraging people and setting them up for success, these leaders embrace a positive leadership lifestyle—and the results are remarkable.I had the great privilege of working for a company that modeled this to a “T.” Under the leadership of George and Jane Russell, Russell Investments put its people first. Not the owners. Not the customers. The people. George always said, “If you put the people first, they’ll take care of the customers. It doesn’t always work the other way around.” By doing so, the company won several state and national awards for being “the best place to work.” Having experienced this leadership culture myself, I can say it was like an extended family. (Remember I’m talking about work here!) And, during my tenure, we grew from a small investment firm of $1 billion of assets into a $220 billion global powerhouse! Putting employees first even helps the bottom line! “Earth to CEOs!”

Some years ago, researchers at Performance Advantage polled workers to identify what motivates them most on the job. Guess what they found out. Do you think it was fear? Money? Power? Promotions? Benefits? Nope. The top three motivators were: 1) being appreciated, 2) being in the loop and invited into decisions, and 3) having an understanding manager! All three are signs of other-centered leadership! And, they’re free!

What would happen if we all tried living for a week in an “other-centered” universe? In this universe others are not put in this world to serve our needs, so we cannot legitimately get frustrated by the elderly lady ahead of us at the store checkout who takes forever to put her change away, or the guy who cuts us off on the freeway. In this universe, we work in a cooperative spirit on the job (and in our families!) and are genuinely excited to see and help others succeed. In this universe, we endeavor to serve those we lead instead of the other way around.

 

The bottom line: Whether personally or professionally, the secret formula to life is: U > Me!